Colorado Public Radio podcast explores Latino heritage by celebrating stories of everyday life

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Colorado Public Radio

A Colorado Public Radio audience development initiative aimed at Latino listeners has spawned a new podcast exploring cultural identity and heritage through stories about everyday life. 

¿Quién Are We?, an eight-part series that released its first episode Friday, originated from the work of the Latino Audience Working Group, formed in early 2020 to guide CPR’s efforts to broaden its reach to Colorado’s Latino communities. 

CPR operates networks of news, classical and indie music stations and the digital news site Denverite from its headquarters in Centennial. Staff from across the organization participated in the group, which started by brainstorming ways to connect with Latino listeners. 

“The project was born out of really personal conversations that we had about our experiences as Latinos in the United States,” said Ana Campbell, editor of Denverite and ¿Quién Are We? and a working group member. 

Nearly 30% of Denver’s population is Latino or Hispanic, according to July 2021 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. The community is under-represented in CPR’s news coverage and listenership, according to Andrew Villegas, ¿Quién Are We? editor and working group leader. CPR News’ radio audience in metropolitan Denver is less than 10% Hispanic, according to Nielsen audience estimates that EP Brad Turner shared with Current. 

“All of us have this idea in our head about what a public radio listener and a public media consumer looks like, and it hasn’t necessarily been Latino people in the past,” Villegas said. “It’s just high time that … we say, ‘Hey, we know you’re here. … We’re going to tell you the stories that you want to hear.’”

The working group of 12 staffers started meeting monthly to discuss how CPR could reach and engage Latino listeners. The idea for the podcast originated from these talks.  

Members agreed that the station needed to offer something different than the overriding media narrative of Latino life in America: stories about people overcoming adversity related to their Latino identity. 

Ortega (Photo: Hart Van Denburg/CPR)

The podcasting world is full of mundane stories about white people, said May Ortega, host of CPR News and ¿Quién Are We? She wanted the podcast to show that, despite adversities they may face, Latino people have mundane stories to share, too. 

Marginalized communities are too often portrayed in extremes, Campbell said. Her goal is for the podcast to reflect the shared experiences of a new generation of Latinos. 

Working on the podcast allowed Campbell to draw from her own heritage and cultural experience in the creative process for the first time, she said. Before this project, fluency in Spanish was her “party trick” in professional settings. 

“My experience as a Latina informs the way that I made notes and the way that I edited the show, and that was a first for me,” Campbell said. “It really made me understand my value.”

Audience research and development of the podcast began in fall 2020. The podcast team was drawn from CPR News staff and the Audio Innovations Studio, CPR’s podcasting and creative audio unit. Turner and Kevin Dale, executive editor of CPR News, are EPs of the show. 

To guide editorial planning and development of the podcast, members of the team set up one-on-one talks with young Latinos. With findings from these conversations, the team began producing a pilot in the spring of 2021. By summer’s end, CPR greenlit production of the first season of the podcast. 

‘Mini-revolution’

The podcast team wanted to focus on one conflict that’s embedded in the identity and experience of Latino Americans —  the notion that they are somehow not good enough for America or the country of their Latino heritage, said Luis Antonio Perez, lead producer. This idea is encapsulated in the Spanish-language expression “Ni de aqui, ni de alla” (“Neither from here, nor from there”), which describes the sense of not belonging in either culture. It prompts lots of people from Latino communities to ask themselves “Who am I?”, Perez said. 

Perez (Photo: Hart Van Denburg/CPR)

“It’s about identity, power and how our identities sort of shape who we are and what we do,” Perez said. “[To do this] we talk a lot about the work that [folks] do or the passions that they pursue.”

The premiere episode of ¿Quién Are We? lays this out by focussing on the identity struggles of Jon Barón, who followed his passion to become a brewer. Barón’s parents immigrated from Mexico, and he grew up in a family that leaned into assimilation with American culture and traditions. 

Barón’s parents were blue-collar workers who wanted different lives for their children. They gave him an Americanized name and encouraged him to follow the paths of his older siblings — a  sister who became an associate dean at a university and a brother who is a successful musician. 

Barón worked in the service industry before he got into brewing. He now specializes in making chicha and pulque, corn-based beverages developed centuries ago by Indigenous peoples of Central and South America. He credits brewing these drinks with allowing him to reconnect with his heritage.

Future installments, which release every other Friday through the end of summer, introduce listeners to ordinary people with their own stories to share about Latino cultural heritage and identity. 

The team shapes and refines each episode to include details that ring true as relatable Latino experiences, Campbell said, noting that CPR leaders defer to the journalists producing ¿Quién Are We? on these decisions. 

“That to me is kind of a revolution, a mini-revolution, in our industry because, frankly, the gatekeepers are still predominantly white, predominantly male,” Campbell said. “And so to have that kind of freedom and to have that kind of trust, I think, created a much more authentic product.”

“It’s your story. No one can tell your story better than you,” Ortega tells her guests on ¿Quién Are We? 

“I hope when someone listens to these everyday, simple stories about things … like dancing or baseball or houseplants or whatever, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, see? That’s me,’” Ortega said. “‘I’ve just never heard my story told in this way, where it’s happy. I can use my passion or my interest as a way to feel closer to who I am or who I could be.’”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly translated the phrase,“Ni de aqui, ni de alla.” It means, “Neither from here, nor from there,” not “Where do you come from?” The  article also misrepresented the cultural heritage of chicha and pulque, which were developed by Indigenous peoples of Central and South America and are not “traditional Hispanic brews.” The article also mischaracterized the goal of the Latino Audience Working Group. It aims to broaden CPR’s reach to Latino communities across Colorado, not just in Denver.

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